It was a busy few years for Scottish singer, Emeli Sandé, following the release in 2012 of her début album, Our Version of Events. Sandé got married, performed at the White House in honour of Carole King, got divorced, had a crisis of personal identity, and got in touch with her Zambian roots. All pretty heady stuff, and perfect fodder for Sandé’s soulful voice, but her follow-up effort, Long Live the Angels, falls short of its potential.
Early on with Long Live the Angels, it is easy to get lost in Sandé’s rich and warm vocals, with frequent choral support, and the minimal musical backing – which is often orchestral in nature. But over the album’s 18 tracks – 15 on the standard edition – and hour run time, the result is one of diminishing returns as songs begin to blur into each other – a fact not helped by several songs feeling incomplete, ending when it seems they should just start progressing. There are a few tracks that buck this trend but not by, or frequently, enough to prevent the listener from becoming bored by the album’s conclusion.
Despite opening with dark synth tones, lead single Hurt provides a dramatic jump in energy, courtesy of relentless hand claps that form a near constant feature to the track, and a rawer vocal performance. Still, Hurt sees Sandé supported by a choral element, and strings and orchestration are abundant, showing the synth and energy to be an augmentation to, not a dismissal of, the record’s sonic template. Garden offers the most drastic shift in tonality, featuring Jay Electronica and Áine Zion, and while the track’s hip-hop beat and vibe is well executed, it sits uncomfortably in the album’s soundscape.
Sandé’s father, Joel, and cousins – credited as The Serenje Choir – feature on Tenderly, reflecting Sandé’s journey to discover her African roots and embrace her mixed-race heritage. High & Low offers the most standard pop-fare of the album, featuring a strong bass line and danceable beat, and is surely in contention as Long Live the Angels’ second single. No one can doubt that Sandé has an expressive, soulful voice that is a pleasure to listen to, but that alone doesn’t make for a good album; Long Live the Angels is a gallant attempt at a sophomore release, but it is unlikely to be the critical or commercial success many were hoping for.